Stories of Biblical Mothers
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The mother of the Bible is a figure of power. She influences the course of life in her home and, in some cases, wider society. The biblical mother is a force to be reckoned with in social, political and religious spheres. Her power stems in part from her role as wife, but far more so from the nurturing and influential relationship she has with her children. No other biblical woman, whether wife, sister or daughter, seems to enjoy the same status and power as the mother. As the mother of the Bible cares for her clan, she does so with wisdom and purpose, acquiring authority and position within the household and beyond.
Some feminists assert that a biblical woman's function is to fulfill and sanction the demands of patriarchy. However, as a feminist and biblical scholar I maintain that women as mothers are not merely constructed as male-dependent pawns within the biblical narrative. Though they are confined to the parameters of a patriarchal system, they have room to operate within their own initiative. They accomplish real feats and emerge as memorable biblical figures, as I demonstrate.
What type of power did a mother enjoy in the ancient biblical world? Here we must turn our attention to anthropologists who have commented on the topic of social power. Anthropologists differentiate between "authority," which denotes culturally sanctioned hierarchical control, and "power," which is described as the ability to gain compliance from others. While generally speaking women did not find themselves in a position where they could claim legal "authority," they certainly had access to "unassigned power," that is, unofficial influence and persuasion.
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From Eve to Esther
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"She Shall be Called 'Woman'"
This study focuses on female characters of the Bible as perceived through the aggadic traditions of Talmud and Midrash. While study of women in the Bible has burgeoned in the last two decades, as has study of the halakhic and legal status of Jewish women, little work has been devoted to the analysis of rabbinic lore on biblical women.
I believe such a study is important because rabbinic lore -- which is essentially an interpretation and explanation of the biblical text -- has significantly shaped human perception of heroes of the Bible for all these generations. As women today attempt to reappropriate past historical models, it serves us well to understand the values and inner workings of that process of interpretation. The rabbis were an elite culture that stood somewhat above and apart from the average Jewish person of that time. How much of their reading into the biblical text was based on the actual status of women of their own times? How much was an idealized attempt to communicate to women the values and models they thought appropriate? Recent scholarship has begun to differentiate between what the rabbis said about women and what women's reality may actually have been. As Kraemer explains:
Strikingly different portraits both of Jewish women and women's Judaism emerge from ancient rabbinic sources on the one hand, and inscriptional, archaeological, and neglected Greek literary sources from the Greco-Roman period on the other. Rabbinic writings have led many scholars to conclude that Jewish women led restricted, secluded lives and were excluded from much of the rich ritual life of Jewish men, especially from the study of Torah. Evidence from the Greco-Roman Diaspora suggests, however, that at least some Jewish women played active religious, social, economic, and even political roles in the public lives of Jewish communities.
Whether or not rabbinic literature is an accurate mirror of most women's lives of that time, this literature came to constitute part of the canon of Judaism in subsequent times. Consequently, it has had an impact for many centuries on the lives of actual Jewish women until today. It is therefore extremely important to obtain an accurate, balanced picture of what exactly classical rabbinic literature has to say about women.
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Biblical Personalities and Archaeology
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Archaeology has a great fascination for most people. It is thrilling to dig and see the spade unearth the secrets of the past. Biblical archaeology has fired the imagination of men and women throughout the ages, and they have flocked to the Holy Land to discover the sites where the heroes of the Bible lived their lives. Even in modern times the stream of pilgrims has not abated. Jews, Christians, and Moslems continue to visit the land of the Bible in ever growing numbers. This interest in the Bible is understandable as it is the bedrock of Western civilization. One of the surprises of modern archaeological discoveries has been that the peripheral lands of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Syria, and Anatolia have greatly added to Biblical knowledge. From each of these neighboring countries have come written documents and monuments of great importance for the understanding of the life, literature, and history of the peoples who once dwelt in Palestine. I shall endeavor to illustrate in this book how history, as treated in the Bible, has been greatly enlarged by the past century of archaeological investigation.
First, let us ask ourselves : what is the aim and what are the methods of archaeology in general, and Biblical archaeology in particular? The term archaeology is derived from the two Greek words archaios, meaning ancient, and logos, meaning knowledge. Archaeology is the study of past civilizations through their material remains. To begin with, archaeology is not an end in itself, not just an abstract study. It is the method of finding out about the past of the human race in all its material aspects and the study of the products of this past : the way people lived, the way they worshiped, the way they built, their art, their trade, their travels. All these aspects are of course also studied by historians. But it must be pointed out that historians are primarily concerned with written records, while archaeologists deal with the solid material remains of civilizations. It studies very closely the objects man used and made, his dwelling places and defense structures, his tools and weapons, the remains of his food, his own bones and burial places. From these he deduces how he lived. Archaeologist work like detectives and treat the artifacts they find as clues to the lives of the people who made and used them. Archaeologist may make exciting new discoveries such as Egyptian tombs filled with gold, as was the case with the Tutankhamon discovery by Carter in 1922. But a few grains of hardened corn from a buried cave in Palestine may reveal more about the life of men in that country than all the treasures of the pyramids.
Archaeology today is a well-developed science. The archaeologist needs the help of many kinds of scientists to carry on his work. Geologists tell him about the earth structure at different periods. Botanists trace ancient plant life for him. Zoologists identify animals. Petrologists and mineralogists supply information about stones and other minerals used for implements and weapons. Chemists and physicists help discover what things were made of and contribute new methods of dating and preserving archaeological finds and discoveries.
Archaeology is also considered a branch of anthropology, and other branches of this science also help the archaeologist. Physical anthropologists identify the faces of early men from parts of their skeletons. Cultural, or social, anthropologists help figure out the religious beliefs, social organization, and other customs of ancient peoples.
Biblical archaeology is a special branch of general archaeology. The Biblical archaeologist may or may not himself dig, but he studies closely the discoveries resulting from the numerous excavations taking place which touch on the Bible, and he endeavors to glean from them every fact that throws a direct or indirect light on Scripture. The Biblical archaeologist must be fully at home with stratigraphy and typology, upon which the methodology of modern archaeology rests and of which more will be said later in this chapter. Yet his chief concern is not with techniques or pots or weapons in themselves. His central and absorbing interest is the understanding and exposition of the Scriptures. For there are two sides to archaeology : digging and deciphering. The Biblical archaeologist may excavate, but his major concern is to study the results of excavations and help interpret them and see what light they can shed on his understanding of the Bible.
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Sects and Separatism More information about the book
The origin of the phenomenon of religious separatism, whether between a Jew and a non-Jew, or between a Jew and his co-religionist, must be sought for in the history of the first Jewish Commonwealth.
From the beginning of Jewish history, from the days of Abraham down to Moses and athe Exodus and beyond, one meets the idea of Israel being separate from other nations and consecrated to the service of God. This doctrine of "election" of Israel by God, pervades the history and prophesy of the Old Testament. This "call" detached Israel from her heathen surroundings and impressed upon her and her descendants the ineffaceable stamp of separateness. This concept is encountered numerous times in the Bible, but for the moment it will suffice to quote the verse which may be regarded as the locus classicus for the doctrine of chosenness which has as its natural corollary ñ separatism:
If you will hearken unto my voice indeed and keep my covenant then ye shall be mine own treasure from among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine. And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex.19:5-6).
These verses prove that the election was dependent upon obedience to the covenant, and that adherence to Mosaism was the factor that separated Israel from everything impure and defiling. It is extremely interesting to note, after close investigation, that the Hebrew verb "to be holy" implies "to be separate" as well. The original meaning of this Hebrew word is uncertain and seems as present indiscoverable (Smith, Religion of the Semites, p. 140). Following a suggestion by Dillman, Kohler in his lexicon, refers to the Accadian qadasu, "to shine;" the etymology, once popular among scholars, that the root qds originally had the meaning "to separate," "to cut off," was bassed on the observation that roots which have a palatal as a first and a dental as a second radical often have the meaning of "to cut" (See Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, and Jastrow, Dictionary of the Talmud and Targumim). This, however, is rather a speculative way of etymologizing. Nevertheless it is remarkable that the Hebrew verb qds, "to be holy," implies "to be separate," as well. The rabbis paraphrase the verse "sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy," with the words, "as I am separate so be ye separated" (Lev.11:44, paraphrased in Sifra). Thus, the word, qds, will be written henceforth kadosh, and refers to the separation or reservation of a person, thing or place, for divine use and service. All persons separated from the rest of mankind to serve God, or serve in the sanctuary of God, are called kadosh, or kedoshim, in the Bible. The priest is holy unto God, as it is written:
Holy shall they be unto their God and they shall not profane the name of their God, for the fire offering of the Lord, the bread of their God do they offer, they shall therefore be holy (Lev.21:6).
Aaron, being separated from the rest of the priests, is called: Holy of Holies (1 Chron.23:13). Also, the Nazirite is called, "holy," as it is written: "All the days of his abstinence is he holy unto the Lord" (Num.6:8).
The word kadosh as already stated above, is often used in the Pentateuch to designate and describe the special mission of Israel in the world. For the idea of holiness was a keystone of Mosaic Law. God brought Israel out of Egypt to be a chosen people, a holy people, a people apart and distinguished from all others by certain rites and rituals. Their laws and customs, their outward consecration was symbolically to express their inner sanctity. That Israel was regarded as holy unto the Lord can be proven from numerous passages in the Bible.
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The Stories of Elijah and Elisha More information about the book
The Story of the Hebrew Bible can be described as a struggle to destroy the heathen deities of the ancient world and replace their worship by the belief in one God. The Bible as a whole, can be regarded as a protest against paganism of every description. The God of Israel made a covenant with His people imposing on them the obligation to obey Him and to become, "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation"(Ex.19:6). The prophetical books according to the Hebrew canon generally read, trace how far Israel lived up to this great calling placed upon her and how often she deflected from it. Without dealing with problems of historical criticism, the author accepts the data of the books from Judges to Kings on their face value. Thus the story of the Hebrew religion could be told in terms of a tension between a spiritual conception of God and His worship, the hallmark of the genuine faith of Israel on the one hand and the various pressures from idolatry which attempted to debase and materialize the national consciousness and practice.
As J.A. Motyer states in The New Bible Dictionary, "we do not find in the Old Testament an ascending from idolatry to pure worship and a spiritual theology constantly fighting through the medium of divinely raised spiritual leaders, religious seductions which nevertheless often claimed the mass of the people. Idolatry is a declension from the norm not an early stage gradually but with difficulties superseded" (p.551).
The charge that accompanied the Hebrew tribes on their entry into Canaan was not beyond their power. All evidence shows, that when Israel reached Canaan under Joshua, they were already imbued with a national consciousness which made them feel and act as one people, with a common resolve to take possession of the land to which they were drawn by the thought that it had been the home of their fathers. This national consciousness was shaped by the national religion, and fostered by a code of ethical, civil, and religious laws. But this national and religious unity did not survive the days of Joshua, which followed by a period of almost complete political anarchy (Jud.17:6). Corresponding with the loosening of the national bond was the loosening of the religious bond. For the book of Judges tells us, whatever the views as to the date of the particular documents, that in settling down to an agricultural life the Israelites had to learn matters from the Canaanites and in this process they often came under the influence of the sensuous fertility cults of the natives, with their child sacrifices, depraved godlets, and immoral religious practices.
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